OPINION: Congress needs to act now to support mass transit
There's a looming crisis on the horizon in 2021, one that most people haven't heard about yet — though the impacts will be severe.
COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on public transportation budgets everywhere, and unfortunately TriMet is no exception. Due to necessary and effective social distancing measures, revenue from transit fares and local taxes have evaporated. In addition, the increased costs for cleaning and purchasing protective masks and gloves has forced many transit agencies to announce dramatic service cuts.
The devastating cuts planned in New York City, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., include canceling weekend and late-night service and cutting half of bus and train service during the week. This will most likely happen in Portland, too, if Congress doesn't pass at least $32 billion in emergency relief. And it will severely hurt Portland residents and small businesses.
Small and large businesses alike know that TriMet is part of their success, connecting employees affordably in a city where housing is increasingly expensive. Public transit is a necessary component to the success of our city.
While all levels of employment are down, low-wage earners have lost many more jobs during the pandemic. If TriMet services are cut, these workers will not have a way to get to and from work when jobs return. Small and large businesses will have difficulty finding employees, especially for lower-wage jobs where TriMet has been the main mode of transportation.
Our businesses rely on moving people to our offices and on moving freight and goods around the region efficiently. While many riders of TriMet are lower income, others rely of the convenience and green aspects of riding public transit instead of driving their car. Should this not be possible, traffic will increase significantly. From 1993 to 2017 Portland's congestion increased over three times faster than the rate of population growth. TriMet has helped to combat this trend.
Without robust transit service, Portland will trade one airborne crisis for another: air pollution, a crisis which hurts communities of color disproportionately. TriMet is leading the way with clean energy and emissions reductions, both by taking cars off the road and converting its entire fleet to renewable diesel in the coming months. This progress will be lost without emergency funding for transit.
Portland has a long history of improving its transportation system, having the highest transit ridership for a city of its size. Portlanders depend on transit. Maintaining TriMet's funding is at the core of our recovery and an equitable society.
Congress, we urge you to pass at least $32 billion in emergency relief for public transit. Portlanders are counting on you.
Leslie Carlson is the co-founder of Portland-based marketing firm Brink Communications. Keith Wilson is the president of TITAN Freight Systems, a regional transportation company based in Portland with operations throughout Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
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